The Hidden Lives of Bees

How might the hidden lives of bees show us what it means to be a sustainable species?

Bees are some of the most fascinating creatures on this planet and offer humanity a perfect representation of a sustainable being. Not only do they make their own homes out of a substance their body makes, but they also give far more back to the world than they take. Human beings have a lot to learn from the hidden lives of bees.

Most people have never seen a male honeybee before. And that’s just because a honeybee colony is about 95% female and the amount of male bees can actually fluctuate throughout the year. So when we need male bees around to mate with a queen, the colony will produce more male bees. They stay in the hive or they leave and they go to drone congregation areas to mate with a queen. In the winter, when there aren’t as many resources available to the bees, the female bees will kick all the male bees out of the hive and they’ll either starve or freeze to death.

Bees live a very short lifespan, so in the spring and summer, when the bees are working their hardest, the female worker bees will only live about six weeks. In the winter, when they’re not doing quite as much, and when we need more bees to make it through the winter, they’ll live about six months and their bodies actually change in the winter. The bees that are born later in the year and need to make it through the winter will have more fat bodies on them, so that they can make it through the dearth when there’s nothing in bloom and when bees are living off the honey that they collected or stored in their hive earlier in the year.

The queen can live the longest. She can live about five years. Once a queen bee is born, when she reaches the ripe age of about seven days old, she’ll go on a mating flight. And she’ll fly out of the hive and she’ll go to a drone congregation area where there’s a bunch of drone male honey bees flying around just waiting for a queen bee to fly by. If a queen bee flies by, the fastest, strongest drones win and they will successfully mate with a queen and the queen will mate with only about 15 to 20 drone bees and she’ll have enough sperm to last the rest of her life. And what happens to the male bees is once they mate with the queen, their endo phallus rips out of their abdominal cavity and they fall to the ground and that’s the end of their little bee life.

We often think of a colony of bees being a monarchy where the queen is in charge and making all of the decisions but that’s not the case at all. It’s the colony making the decisions. So it’s all the worker bees, it’s the collective of female worker bees making that decision. And they can take any female egg and turn it into a queen bee not only by that diet of royal jelly, but they will also make the cell that the bee is born into a little bit bigger to accommodate the queen bee’s larger body size. So it’s actually the group of female worker bees that’s making that decision and the queen bee doesn’t always know when she’s in her final days, it’s the colony that would know. Her pheromones would get weaker and they would prepare for having a new queen.

Their world very much exists through sense, but they don’t really have a nose like we do. They can taste through their feet. They even have a way to taste the difference between sweet and salty through their feet. They have antennae too which help them move within the colony and talk to each other and clean themselves.

The comb building is a really interesting process because we see little hexagons within the hive, but they actually start off building it as circles. So the weight of the hive will bring it down and the way that they build the comb is actually up at an angle so that the honey doesn’t seep out. It’s remarkable what they have figured out how to do as a species, how to engineer this perfect building and do it out of beeswax, out of something that their body produces naturally. I mean I can think of no better example that nature has given us for a sustainable creature that can build its home out of something that comes off of its body and then always leave the world better than they found it. It’s they’re amazing.

Coming soon.

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Music Credits:

“Aisha” – Tony Anderson

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